Well we saw the opening weekend of the FIA World Touring Car Championship at Marrakech and have been left with several points to consider in the run up to Round 2 at Paul Ricard this weekend...
First of all, during Practice, Qualifying and both Races its obvious of how much an advantage that Citroen have. Muller, Loeb and Lopez were all tenths and hundreths apart in each session with all three capable of winning races. In fact its highly possible the title fight will be between these three...
Secondly the pace of the Honda seems lacking in top speed like it did last year and that could hurt later on in the season at tracks like Spa and Suzuka. However the Civic's best ability has always been the chassis and handling so things should be more even over the next few rounds.
Finally, the RML Chevrolets have pace...and good pace at that. During race one Chilton was able to close on the Citroens in the latter part...although the Citroens suddenly upped the pace by 2 seconds when they realised he was closing. But with Borkovic qualifying 5th in race one and Hugo Valente taking 3rd in race two, the Cruze shows good pace with more to come once ROAL, Campos and Munnich get a grip on the car.
In practice however, several cars hit the Marrakech walls and soon the field was down on numbers. Petr Fulin hit the walls in practice, ruling him out of the TC2 fight. Tarquini however went wide at turn 3 and slid into the tyres...however things got worse when Gianni Morbidelli slid on oil and hit the Honda square on. This wrecked the chassis and ruled out Tarquini from the weekend...
You can be certain Gabriele will come out all guns blazing in Paul Ricard...
After all three qualifying session were run, Jose Maria Lopez had taken Pole Position from Sebastian Loeb. Muller cut the chicane on his run and had his time deleted. With Borkovic being released too early for his Q3 run and relegated to 5th, this elevated Tom Chilton to P3 on the race one grid. Munnich, Monteiro, Michelisz, Bennani and Coronel rounded out the top ten, giving Coronel the race two pole.
More on that later...
The Lada's suffered in Qualifying with Huff losing out to start 13th whilst Thompson started in 11th. Kozlovskiy would qualify 13th.
In Race One, the start saw Munnich creeping on the line, earning himself a drive through penalty. Muller jumped ahead of Chilton to take third as Lopez led Loeb away in grid order.
And thats how the top four finished. No racing each other, no moves for position, all three kept station whilst Chilton tried his best to keep up. When Lopez slowed the pace, Chilton caught all three... Only to see the three Citroens suddenly find 2 seconds a lap.
Behind these four, Borkovic fought with Monteiro for 5th, eventually passing the Honda driver after a helpful tap at the hairpin. This put Borkovic back into the top five whilst allowing Michelisz and Bennani to close with Valente not much further back. Bennani and Valente would pass Michelisz on lap 13 as Michelisz slowed.
Huff would retire from the race with Turbo issues, whilst Coronel would retire after hitting the tyres at a chicane and knocking loose his front end and suffering a gear lever. Munnich also retired from the race.
So Race One finished as Lopez, Loeb and Muller, from Chilton and Borkovic. Monteiro, Bennani, Valente, Michelisz and Thompson rounded out the top ten, with Engstler winning the TC2 Class.
Race two saw some drama compared to race one. Thompson was declared unfit after issues in the Lada whilst Huff was retired. However on the start grid, Kozlovskiy parked in the wrong spot and this saw a quick reshuffling of the cars. At the start though, things exploded.
Coronel got a good start, however Bennani was better away. Tom came across on Bennani and suddenly Coronel was pushed into one wall and then speared across the track to the other. Muller caught the rear of Coronel's Chevrolet, causing damage to the Citroen.
As the field parked to have the track cleared, emotions were high with Coronel believing Bennani was pushing whilst Bennani was adamant Coronel was pushing him towards the wall. Bennani was in tears as he exchanged words with Coronel, the two men being good friends in the paddock. However the damage to the Cruze meant Coronel would miss the two French WTCC Rounds.
At the restart, Bennani led from Monteiro, Loeb, Munnich and Valente. Loeb passed Monteiro straight away. Lopez and Chilton moved past Borkovic whilst at the end of lap 6 Loeb passed Bennani for the lead as the Moroccan driver recieved a drive through penalty for contact with Coronel. Bennani would later be excluded for being underweight, compounding a bad day.
Loeb led from Lopez whilst Valente passed Monteiro to take 3rd as Tiago suffered with brake issues. Borkovic retired on lap 8 causing a 2nd safety car period. Once racing resumed, again the Citroens held station with Valente behind. Bennani started 8th behind the Safety Car but fought his way up to 5th, having an exciting fight with Chilton.
On the road, Loeb won from Lopez and Valente with Chilton beating Bennani by 0.026 seconds at the line before the later exclusion. Kozlovskiy held of Morbidelli for 6th whilst The TC2 entries of Engstler, Di Sabatino and Filippi finished in the top ten. Monteiro fell to 11th with car issues.
So the WTCC Circus moves to Paul Ricard for Easter Weekend with Citroen already the dominant force and happily willing to enforce team orders from halfway in the race to ensure maximum points scored. Muller is 30 points adrift already and will not be happy with playing team orders so happy. He likes to race for wins and race fair with his team mates so expect to see him out all guns blazing as well as Tarquini wanting points in the Honda.
To consider as well, Paul Ricard is fast and flowing with twisty sections, so expect to see the Honda's and Chevrolets close up to Citroen. Lada will catch up but again Paul Ricard could be another test weekend as they get to grips with the new Granta. With Tarquini and Honda looking to make up ground, the next two WTCC could be a bit more exciting...
If Citroen lets their boys race...
Cheers and Happy Easter!!